Structure, function, and evolution of the oviducts of squamate reptiles, with special reference to viviparity and placentation

J Exp Zool. 1998 Nov-Dec 1;282(4-5):560-617.


In lizards and snakes, the oviducts function in fertilization, sperm storage, egg transport, eggshell deposition, maintenance of the early embryo, and expulsion of the egg or fetus. In viviparous forms they also contribute to placentae responsible for gas exchange and nutrient provision to the fetus. Dissections of species of 30 genera coupled with data from the literature indicate that squamate oviducts vary interspecifically in seven macroscopic features, including the extent and nature of regional differentiation, vascular supply, topographic asymmetry, number of oviducts, vaginal pouches, and relationship to the cloaca. The uterus, infundibulum, and vagina differ histologically in their epithelia, glands, and myometrial layers. Season cyclicity occurs in all three oviductal regions, most prominently in the uterus, and is under endocrinological control. Regional and cytological specializations reflect the diverse functions performed by the oviduct. Definitive evidence for oviductal albumen production and egg resorption is lacking. In viviparous squamates, three uterine specializations may facilitate maternal-fetal gas exchange: an attenuated epithelium, reduced uterine glands (and a reduced shell membrane), and increased vascularization. Contrary to previous reports, pregnant uteri show no epithelial erosion or capillary exposure. Specializations for nutrient provision to the fetus include mucosal hypertrophy, enlarged glandular epithelia, and multicellular glands whose secretions are absorbed by the chorioallantois. Comparisons with other amniotes indicate that squamates inherited the oviduct as an organ with capabilities for egg uptake and transport, fertilization, eggshell deposition, and oviposition. Other features have evolved convergently among squamates: infundibular sperm receptacles, unilateral oviduct loss, uterine gestation, placentation, and specializations for placentotrophy. Cladistic analysis indicates that oviductal features associated with deposition of tertiary egg investments in reptiles reflect evolutionary convergence as well as secondary simplification, rather than a unidirectional trend towards increased specialization.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cloaca / anatomy & histology
  • Female
  • Lizards / anatomy & histology*
  • Lizards / physiology
  • Oviducts / anatomy & histology*
  • Oviducts / blood supply
  • Oviducts / physiology
  • Placenta / anatomy & histology*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Snakes / anatomy & histology*
  • Snakes / physiology
  • Uterus / anatomy & histology